Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Part 4: The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish

By David Mitchell

Part 4: The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish

  • After telling us about an embarrassing incident in which he was beaten up by three teenaged girls, our narrator, Timothy Cavendish, tells us about another incident at the Lemon Prize Awards.
  • Cavendish was Dermot "Duster" Hoggins's editor. Hoggins wrote a memoir, Knuckle Sandwich, which was critically panned.
  • One of those panning critics, Felix Finch, is at the same party. Hoggins finds him and makes a huge scene, pretending to read "Award for Most Eminent Literary Critic" (4.1.35).
  • "Do I win a free flight to a South American country?" (4.1.36), snipes Finch.
  • Pretty much. Hoggins flings Finch off a balcony, and he splatters on the pavement below.
  • The good news—sales for Knuckle Sandwich skyrocket, and Cavendish, the publisher, rakes in the dough.
  • Success is short-lived, as Cavendish is visited by Hoggins's brothers—Eddie, Mozza, and Jarvis—who are demanding their fair share of the proceeds from the book sales. They want fifty thousand pounds by the next afternoon.
  • Cavendish phones Mrs. Latham, his business partner, who says she couldn't find him fifty thousand pounds by tomorrow afternoon—she couldn't even find him five thousand if she tried.
  • As a last resort, Cavendish calls his brother, Denholme, and asks for a loan.
  • "Oh, Satan's gonads, not you" (4.1.101), says Denholme when his brother calls. Oh, they seem to have a close relationship...
  • Denholme says he has no money, but he can call in a favor in "a comfortable place where [Cavendish] could possibly lie low for a while" (4.1.121).
  • After an incident at the ticket counter, Cavendish finds himself on a train to Hull.
  • On the train, Cavendish pulls an unpublished manuscript from his briefcase: Half-Lives—The First Luisa Rey Mystery,by someone going by the pseudonym Hilary V. Hush. Cavendish's verdict: "It would have been a better book if [it] weren't so artsily-fartsily Clever" (4.1.155).
  • The train has to stop due to a missing driver—Cavendish: "Who was driving now if there wasn't a driver?" (4.1.155)—and Cavendish finds himself in Little Chesterford, where he remembers Ursula, his young love.
  • Like an old creeper, Cavendish finds Ursula's old house and peeps in the windows. She still lives there, helping her grandchildren get dressed for Halloween.
  • With no train, Cavendish has to take a bus to Cambridge. There he finds a crappy roach motel to stay in for the night.
  • Cavendish falls asleep reading Half-Lives and has a dream in which a child on a merry-go-round transforms into Nancy Reagan. We'd love to analyze this, but "Nancy Reagan" isn't in any of our dream dictionaries.
  • Once again, Cavendish's train makes an unscheduled stop. On this pit stop, he regrets giving his life to books. "Despondency makes one hanker after lives one never led" (4.1.192).
  • Then Cavendish smokes a cigar offered to him by a mysterious Rastafarian in a public restroom. Cavendish calls him "my black Virgil" (4.1.193). Virgil? What is this, the road to Hell?
  • No, it's the road to Hull. Stoned out of his mind, Cavendish takes a taxicab to his final destination: Aurora House.
  • The cab arrives, and the cabby says, "Sick teen-squid Zachary" (4.1.205). Who's Zachary?
  • In his weed-induced stupor, Cavendish misheard. It was: "Sixteen—quid—exactly" (4.1.207).
  • Cavendish can barely pay, because his wallet's been stolen. He dumps his change into the cabby's hand but can't afford much of a tip.
  • Cavendish stumbles into Aurora House, signs the guest register, and sinks into a deep sleep, thinking, "In the morning, life would begin afresh, afresh, afresh" (4.1.223).
  • Yeah, it's not so fresh. Cavendish wakes up to find a scary beast of a woman, Mrs. Noakes, rifling through his things. He swears at her, and she threatens to make him eat soap powder.
  • As he looks around Aurora House, seeing that all the guests are seventy years old or older, Cavendish realizes that he's been tricked into checking into a nursing home. He didn't sign a hotel guest register; he signed residency papers.
  • Cavendish tries to escape, but he's captured by Mr. Withers, the gardener, who doesn't just carry him back inside, but pulls his pants down and spanks him.
  • Things start looking bleaker. Cavendish meets Gwendolin Bendincks and Gordon Warlock-Williams of the welcome committee. These two sycophants try to get him to resign himself to a life of submission.
  • The section closes with Cavendish making an impassioned point about how much it stinks to grow old. As if to punctuate his speech with an exclamation point, he has a stroke.